Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On The Chopping Block...

The discussion is swirling in our district about the high school's block schedule, which consists of four 84 minute blocks per day, some classes every day, some alternating every other day, and almost all of them meeting for just one of the two semesters. This schedule is about ten years old, and in general students and teachers like it.

Band is offered every other day, and you can either sign up for it all year, or by the semester. Over the last ten or so years, it's become that a majority of band kids are in it for just the fall or just the spring. There are so many offerings and choices and pressures on these kids. I have decided that rather than 'fight city hall', I will take these parameters and resources, and try to work them into the most attractive and valuable program that I can. This is what this school wants, and I am paid to provide the best possible product I can with the material I am given. I maintain that I do no better to advocate for music and the band than to be the best teacher I can be.

Block scheduling throws up some real road blocks for ensembles. Much of what we do thrives on continuity, and a block schedule can interrupt that. I will always have the core group of students that show up whenever or wherever there is a band in which to play, and I will always have the group of students that will have the conflicts. Block scheduling affects those kids in the middle. Some are able to participate easier due to the schedule, some who have a more difficult time.

I will say that, despite being led to believe for many years that once a student takes a hiatus from playing, it is very difficult to get them back. In my situation, this doesn't seem to be the case as much as I had expected. Many students continue to study their instruments privately as the year goes on, and are ready to come back when they once again are scheduled. They are often playing outside of the school day in the jazz. marching, or pit groups during their hiatuses as well. It can work.
One of the most significant difficulties I run across is keeping the sections of which there are often not many players full, such as horn and double reeds.

I am not compelled to draw some valuable conclusion for you here. While some might look at our program and argue the contrary, I say we are making it work. We have to start almost from scratch in February, and that makes the March large group festival not really feasible for us, but so be it. That's how we do it, and we kind other ways of getting outside feedback. I am not joining the fight to save block scheduling, but I'm not taking up arms against it either. I'll just keep teaching.

I do make a really big deal in the spring concert about the seniors with eight semesters of high school band behind them. I'll admit that.

I'll let you know what the district decides.


  1. Dear Mr. Wright,

    I've enjoyed reading through many of your past blogs. I play low brass instruments just to be part of the band, but I'm primarily a pianist and organist (which allows me to earn suffucient spending money while banking 80% of my earnings).

    We've had a modified block schedule at my high school since long before I was there. Some
    students just take band in the fall, and others sign up just for the spring. Usually their choices are based on a desire to participate in or to avoid marching band, but other things, such as sports participation, factor in as well. Right now I'm a junior and have been in band for all six semesters of my high school enrollment up to this point. I hope the block schedule continues to work out OK for you.

    This is really of very little importance in the grand scheme of things but, since you touched on the topic in an earlier blog, I'll share it. My mother is presently a director of
    counseling services for a school district, but she holds mutiple degrees and certifications, including a doctorate in educational psychology. Her B. A. was in music performance (vocal and piano), and so she used her music background to some degree when she researched amd wrote her doctoral dissertaton on the topic of the cognitive benefits of music instruction.


  2. One conclusion my mom reached in trailing students of various music programs was that students' IQs rose significantly when they learned to read music well enough that they could silently read and comprehend notated music. [Ability to sight sing was less indicative of anything, for whatever reason.] (The criteria for fluency and comprehension in silent reading of notated music was that the ability to identify a melody [with familiar tunes] and to distinguish notes incongruous to the overall harmony or chord structure.) The students' performance IQs rose a mean of 16 points from pre-test using WISC Form A [Weschler, but I'm not sure which edition] to WISC Form B; their verbal IQs rose a mean of 5 points from pre- and post- tests using the same measuring intrument. The standard deviation is 15 on this particular examination tool. I'm not an expert [I'm taking stats this year, so by the end of the year I'll be an expert} on the statistical ramifications, but my mom told me that the performance gain of 16, as being greater than the standard deviation, would be considered statistically significant. The mean gains of students receiving music instruction but not learning to silently read standardly notated music were 4 and 2 on performance and verbal categories respectively.

    The total population of the students in my mom's research was 500, including the control group, which was pre- and post-tested but received no music instruction. These numbers would not justify mandating music instruction for all children on the limited basis of my mom's study , but certainly offered credible evidence that music instruction is a beneficial thing. On the other hand,
    music educators really shouldn't have to justify their programs on the grounds that they contribute to cognitive growth. Music is worthwhile in and of istelf. Still, it doesn't hurt, with time being such a valuable entity, to know that what one is studying or teaching has far-reaching benefits.


  3. One psychology professor supervising my mother's research (as a psychology professor, he really shoud have been smarter) tried to make issue of the intangible but still inherent differences between those who learned to silently read music and those who did not. My mother believed that the pre-and post-testing covered this sufficiently. If those who learned to read music silently were inherently cognitively superior in any area in the first place, it should have shown up in some segment or subtest in the pre-testing process. For the record, students receiving Kodaly training were slightly more represented (1.15 times greater verusu 1.0) than those receiving other forms of music instruction, which included Orff, Suzuki, Dalcroze, school band or orchestra, school vocal programs with no specific pedagogical emphasis, private teachers using various methodologies. No other program or metholdology showed any advantage in this area.

    Some students learn to read music silently while others, some of whom have equal musical skill as the more musically literate, never acquire that skill. We may never know why.

    Keep up the great work in your noble calling.

    Your reader,

    P. S. You greatly helped me to have a less boring afternoon. I'm stuck in timeout. My parents send me to their office with just their books and computers. I can't use the Internet for pleasure in timeout, but I can research legitimate topics such as music instruction. If I don't read your blog again sooner, I'll certainly catch up with it the next time I'm confined to my parents' office. My mouth sometimes gets me into trouble at home.

  4. Alexis,

    Thank you so much for you thoughtful commentary and input, albeit born of a sort of incarceration! I find your mother's work intriquing, and I do believe and hope that music has the kind of effect that her work suggests it does. I think this sort of research is valuable and important. My concern comes when we use it for political or public relations purposes, and alienate and confuse more people than we win over.

    Thank you so much for reading! I hope to run across you here often! Thank you for your kind words!